In the Garden:
Selections of Corylopsis, such as one at the Biltmore Estate in western North Carolina, feature yellow flowers that hang in chainlike clusters from bare branches in late winter or early spring.
Winter Hazel Earns Its Keep
Hopefully, everyone in the Middle South knows that autumn and the early days of winter are a terrific time to add new trees and shrubs to the garden. With that point settled, and shovel at the ready, it's only a matter of choosing what to plant.
Many of my favorite trees and shrubs include beautiful and fragrant winter bloomers, such as Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume), paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha), and shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantisima)*.
I hope to expand this list as I begin cultivation of the garden at my new home. Earlier this year, I found a likely candidate- Corylopsis, commonly called winter hazel.
An Asian native, this increasingly popular member of the witch hazel family features soft yellow, fragrant flowers that hang in chain like clusters on bare branches. Because of their beauty, the stems are attractive in floral arrangements, but the shrub also makes a powerful display in the garden, especially when highlighted against dark evergreens.
The memorable example I saw was at Biltmore Estate in western North Carolina, during the its annual Festival of Flowers in mid April. Located in the bend of a pathway that beckoned visitors forward, the Corylopsis was a standout among its plant neighbors, such as colorful quince and 'Yoshino' cherry.
The cultivar I hope to locate for my shady plot is Corylopsis spicata 'Ogon.' This selection features bell-shaped flowers in March, but earns its keep with golden-hued foliage that fades to chartreuse and then pale yellow in autumn. At maturity, the shrub should stand 8-feet tall and 12-feet wide.
Other species include C. glabrescens, a large, hardy plant that can tolerate a bit more sun; C. pauciflora, a smaller shrub that likes protection from wind and sun; and C. sinensis, a variable species that usually exhibits larger flowers and longer bloom clusters.
In general, the winter hazels tend to develop an attractive and open growth habit. The typical form is a spreading shrub that grows wider than it is tall.
Place and cultivate Corylopsis as you would rhododendrons, making sure the soil is well-drained and slightly acidic. When preparing for planting, mix a generous amount of organic humus with the existing soil. Compost, leaf mold, processed manure or soil conditioner (a mix of finely ground tree bark and top soil) are all excellent choices.
Where the existing soil is heavy, dig a planting hole that is three times as wide as the root ball, but slightly less deep, so that the top of the root ball remains a bit above the natural soil level. Then add a 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch to help retain moisture.
If properly planted, Corylopsis will rarely need additional care. Remember to irrigate during dry spells, and when feeding is warranted, use a rhododendron type fertilizer in late winter.
* Note: Winter-blooming shrub honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantisima) is not invasive in my area, but it is a plant pest in other parts of the United States. If you are unfamiliar with a plant, it is always best to check it against an invasive plant list specific to your region or state.
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